It was a rainy Friday, early spring in Montreal, when I first listened to James Parm‘s debut album Oh My Darling.
His music gave me the chills. Maybe it was the rain pattering on the coffee shop window, maybe it was James’ uncanny ability to capture the essence of the musical era I love, the late 90s and early 2000s, but what ever it was, his music stabs directly at the psyche.
When I met with James later that day for a chat at Le Sainte-Elisabeth, a well known watering hole just off of St. Catherine Street, his music had already dug under my skin. As soon as we began to chat, it was as if he had already conveyed so much to me through his music.
But I had to know what made this visionary musical artist tick.
At only 26 years old, this Montreal native brings together elements of David Bowie, Nirvana, I Mother Earth, and Radiohead. However, it is the jazz training that he got at McGill that weaves its way into every song he creates.
James said that from that training, jazz seeped into his veins. But to James, every instrument holds the possibility of a song.
“It’s almost like whatever instrument I put in front of me is going to produce a song,” James said.
And it is there, in the depths of James’ music, audible to the careful listener, that neo-jazz and downer-pop brings together an almost melancholic view of humanity hinging on metaphor and irony. But like that which it comments on, James’ music fluxes and changes, challenging you to think and contemplate about what you just heard. Really, just when you think you have it figured out, the sound changes, never letting your attention deviate from it.
“Honestly, there’s a certain level of ambitious arrangement,” James said. “The structure changes quite frequently. There’s some surprising elements, but it’s purely because me as a listener I get bored. So I write half the song, and then I need to write the other half, and I don’t wanna repeat myself. Once the song and the vocals are there, everything underneath the arrangement can be anything, like the sound of trees. You could put in a car sound, like over an entire verse and then people would be thinking about these cars. That’s like the best part.”
But James’ admits there may be a pitfall of composing songs this way.
“I don’t know if I know what music is,” he joked.
But it’s pretty obvious that James is just being humble. It is tracks like “Oh My Darling” that reveal James’ ability to convey greater meaning about life and love through his music.
“There’s a gross element of humanity that’s animalistic,” James said. “It’s based on desires and pursuing these desires, and people who have no control over their desires. That kind of made me think about larger concepts like love, or the cheapening of love. I kind of took it as a larger criticism of it. A song like “Oh My Darling” that’s kind of the point. A song like that, it’s an ironic testament to modern millennial relationships.”
Irony is a big part of the album. Even the song titles use common text shortcuts, something that James’ did intentionally to juxtapose pop culture with more classic culture.
It is in this that James’ music is more than just music. Oh My Darling is a daring artistic expression that acts as a cultural mirror.
“I like art that makes a commentary on contemporary society. Art is like the reflection. It’s reflecting on something, otherwise it’s not art.” James explains that while something can be music the difference in personal perception determines how artistic something is. That is, what is art to one person, may not be art to another. But, he says that artistic music acts as a way to bind two perceptions together, a way to convey something deeper between people.
“The music is just like the bridge between your perception and theirs,” James said.
This is an important idea since we live in an age where we are flooded by new music every day. But, according to James, the quantity of music available shouldn’t change the connection with have with it.
“Just because we have Spotify it doesn’t just multiply the amount of amazing musical experiences you’re going to have in your life,” James said. We got onto discussing this connection when I mentioned how his descending chords and neo-jazz inspired tracks reminded me of songs from important moments in my life, such as when I bought David Bowie’s Heathen album on my first solo trip when I was 17.
James explained that he felt that the connection we have to music, specific songs and sounds from specific moments in our lives, is more than just consuming the medium.
“It’s like you’re at the right age, the right timing, the right place. Maybe it’s a God thing. It’s like a specific message for you at that moment. Just because we have so much content at our disposal and doesn’t give it more significance. It doesn’t change like the amount of albums I love,” James said. “I think music can be a very powerful experience.”
Another important aspect of music to James’ is the potential to tell a story.
“Songs like this, what a song is, it’s telling a story,” James said. This is perhaps an interesting perspective on songs, especially since many of his songs only came to him after experiencing rough times and hard emotions. But it’s not as if he dives into the music part right away. James explained that he often begins with poetry, but that poetry has a type drawback, something that it shares with other artistic outlets.
“Either you’re an amazing poet, or [the poetry] is like a diary. You receive recognition for it by a third party which validates it, and so it’s so ridiculously subjective as an art form,” James said. “I don’t want to do music because I need recognition from others, that’s gross. It has to not be like that, it has to be much more real than that, otherwise I’ll do something else.”
But James recognizes that giving up on an artistic outlet is no easy feat. We talked at length about how the need to create, whether through music, poetry, writing, painting, or whatever, is one of those things that we struggle to put into words, even though it exists and influences artists. It’s even harder to give up.
“With art it’s like this certain point where you’re not in control, and you’re kind of allowing it to come through,” James said. “To get to that point it’s like a psychological state that either you have to work towards, or something terrible has to happen where you completely let go of all control. Then you allow this voice to come through. That’ll be like the best shit will come through. You don’t have to fix anything. Everything will come out, like God’s creation. It’s just like…breathing. If you try to adapt or modify after, it’s like working with a limited intelligence you know you have to use a greater intelligence but it’s hard to do. But that’s part of my addiction is trying to trying to feel that. There’s that feeling of sheer inspiration. When it does happen, it’s like something you can’t touch it as it exists, it’s outside of the normal.”
“It’s nicer than. Reality you know, it’s nice in retrospect. Which is why you do it.”
Getting back to the need for art and artists to have validation, James feels that believing in yourself and your creations, not bending to what is popular, is perhaps the most powerful statement any artist can make.
“I think that you’ll never know anything outside of your own perception. The whole process of creating anything must be a means of you learning to develop a trust in yourself. Because if you don’t, if you’re not the one saying ‘this is good’ or ‘I like this,’ who are you going to trust? You’re giving your power away. So it’s empowering to be like ‘this is a sound that I like.’ ‘This is how I’m going to make it.’ That’s an artistic statement!”
Don’t forget to check out James’ debut album Oh My Darling. And be sure to keep up with James on social media: